Interview: Andy Cope, Psychologist and author

Monday, October 5, 2015

Psychologist Andy Cope is speaking at the PACEY Be Happy, Be Healthy: Supporting Well-Being in the Early Years conference on 7 November. Andy is co-author with Andy Whittaker of The Art of Being Brilliant and Be Brilliant Every Day.

Tell us about your happiness research and the theory of the ‘two percenters’?

I’ve just completed a Loughborough University PhD investigating the science of happiness and flourishing. The so-called ‘2%ers’ are the tiny minority who are significantly happier than average plus (and this is crucial) their happiness leaks out of them so others catch it. The UK needs more of them! It won’t have escaped your notice that we are a bit downbeat as a nation. The weather, traffic, news and work pressures tend to conspire to suck the energy and joy out of most people. So my thesis has been about what we can learn from the 2%ers that the rest of the population can apply, so we can raise our game too.

How can childcare professionals look after their own wellbeing?

I cannot think of a more physically and emotionally exhausting profession than that of a childcare professional. You are ‘giving’ so much and it’s one of the few professions where you can’t afford to have an off day. And while the profession will bang on (rightly) about the importance of the children, I would like to remind childcare professionals that the most important person to look after is actually yourself. If you are not high energy and enthusiastic, the kids don’t stand a chance.

I haven’t got enough words in this article to elaborate on the science but the basics of eating the right foods and getting a good night’s sleep are more important than you imagine. You are a childcare ‘professional’ so you should make sure you are in the best possible mindset and physical state to do your job to the very best of your ability.

Are there specific qualities that you need when working with children to cope with the stress of the job?

There are stresses in all jobs but think the particular challenge of your job is the full-on relentless ‘giving’ nature of what you do. The biggest thing that comes out of my happiness research is also the simplest point - that being happy and positive is more controllable than you imagine. Consciously choosing to have an upbeat attitude will make a huge difference to how you feel. Crucially, when you’re upbeat it will positively affect the children and staff.

I think gratitude is also important in your job. There’s a big fat chance that you feel under-paid and under-appreciated so it’s easy to slip into ‘moan mode’. But if you forget the bank balance and focus on ‘wealth’ in its widest sense, the experience of working with young children can be astoundingly enriching. Always look at what you have got rather than grumbling about what you haven’t got – that’s a good starting point for having healthy psychological functioning

How can childminders protect themselves psychologically when they spend a lot of time on their own with young children? 

There’s a law of life that sounds like a cliché but that is actually true: the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. So rather than seeking to ‘get through the day’ or ‘survive until the weekend’, why not raise your aspiration towards ‘inspiring as many people as possible’? You will immediately have a stronger purpose than most other people.

And, let’s face it, we can learn a lot about happiness from children. They aren’t trying to get to Friday at 5pm and they are so much better at living in the moment. So maybe the lesson is for us to recapture our childlike state. Be excited about the new day. Be curious about everything. Treat the world with a childlike wonder. Not only will you engage the young people, you might also enthuse yourself!

  • The PACEY Be Happy, Be Healthy: Supporting Well-Being in the Early Years conference takes place on 7 November in York. Find out more and book your place here

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